Can the Cohen Tapes Bring Down Trump?

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tags: Watergate, Nixon, Trump, Michael Cohen

Julian E. Zelizer  is a historian at Princeton University and a CNN political analyst. He is the author of The Fierce Urgency of Now: Lyndon Johnson, Congress, and the Battle for the Great Society, and the editor of a new book, The Presidency of Barack Obama: A First Historical Assessment.

The revelation of the [Cohen] tapes comes almost 45 years after the most famous secret-presidential-tape revelation of all—the moment on July 16, 1973, when Alexander Butterfield, the head of the Federal Aviation Administration and the former deputy assistant to the president, told the Senate Watergate Committee in a televised hearing that President Richard Nixon had recorded his Oval Office conversations. The tapes helped bring an end to Nixon’s presidency. ...

Will the Cohen tapes possibly have the same impact? The answer depends in part on what they contain, and on what the public hears. But our political world has changed. Watergate itself generated so much distrust in government that it lowered public expectations of leaders. This is triply true with Trump, whose own loyal supporters seem to understand that he is an extremely flawed man but still love him. Unless there is direct evidence on this or other tapes of his culpability in illegal activity, just hearing Trump discussing untoward, unethical, or even slightly illegal things not rising to the level of impeachment won’t have the same kind of political impact. Indeed, he still survives despite all of the shocking things that he has already said in front of television cameras and on his Twitter feed.

The United States is now so fiercely partisan that shocking tape recordings will still have trouble shaking the political landscape. That congressional Republicans continue to stand by Trump despite his scandalous behavior with Russia has made it clear that almost nothing can overwhelm partisan loyalty. Even if there is a damning tape, the president and his Republican allies in the House would attack the material as fake and illegitimate, part of a “witch hunt.” Unlike Nixon, who fought tooth and nail to prevent the tapes from being released, Trump seems more likely to focus on moving to control the narrative. This has consistently been his preferred strategy with scandal: Get the information out to the public and then control the spin. Nor did President Nixon have Fox News hosts to explain why the tapes don’t prove anything about the president’s wrongdoing. Trump can count on his Fox friends.

Read entire article at The Atlantic

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